Subway Games

The subway is a great location to see how people use their phones with limited or no access to the internet. To observe the commuter gives an understanding in what people do when they are restricted from using social media apps that require internet access.

Every morning February to March I analyzed what games people play on the NYC subway, specifically on the L-train. I took notes on 45 commuters playing mobile games on the subway. My goal was to see if I could find any interesting patterns in games, and why these games are more popular on the subway than other games.

From my observation, casual three-match games dominated the subway. The most popular game, Candy Crush, was three times more popular than the second most popular game, Solitaire. The third most popular game, Two Dots, was 1/4 popular as Candy Crush.

Session time
The average time between stops on the L-train is 2-5 minutes. Most games show progress in different ways during these time periods. In three-match saga games, players usually see progress every 2-5 minute, usually when they complete a new level. The session time is rather consistent for most games, where the player usually plays one or multiple levels per stop. One exception is for memory puzzles or card games, such as Solitaire, that have longer, and less rewarding session lengths with a repetitive gameplay.

No time limitation – No stress
Another observation is that every subway game observed does not contain any time limitation per level. The player can relax, forget about time, and not feel stressed while playing.

Progression time/level (To reach 1 star)
The progression time for the two most popular three-match games on the subway have a similar progression curve in the first levels. I played the first levels in Candy Crush and Two Dots. I got an average of 20 seconds for the first level before you reach the next level.

Candy Crush Level 1 – 20 seconds
Candy Crush Level 2 – 40 seconds
Candy Crush Level 3 – 53 seconds

Two Dots Level 1 – 19 seconds
Two Dots Level 2 – 24 seconds
Two Dots Level 3 – 32 seconds

Two Dots becoming Candy Crush
It seems like confirmation is key for successful subway crushers. When Two Dots was launched for iOS in May 2014 (two years after Candy Crush) they had less ways to see confirmation and progress in the game. They aimed to another type of player, the intellectual (non-paying) 22-26 year old man. The gameplay had two focuses, two connect multiple dots or dots in squares.

This analysis and the development of the game shows that the game has shifted to become more casual and reach an older segment (more similar to Candy Crush’s 40+ women). The progression and added features to succeed give more confirmation and ways to succeed (or to at least feel progression) in the game.

Most subway games:
– Are playable offline
– Monetize through virtual goods (in-app purchases) – Ads blocked with no or limited internet access
– Have no time limitation per level
– Are iOS compatible
– Choose saga over endless mode
– First levels are easy to complete and progress

While observing the commuters playing games, I estimated their age. Based on my estimation, the most common age span in the subway was 30-35 years old followed by 25-30 years old.

My anticipation of gender showed that 12/43 (27.9%) were females compared to 31/43 (72.1%) that were males.

79.1% of the players owned an iPhone vs 18.6% with an Android.


Please note: In February King (Candy Crush) had two different type of subway ads, one analog and one digital screen, which probably adds bias to this observation.

The data was collected 7.20-7.50am on the L-train Feb 9-March 18.